Nigerien police officers sit outside the customs offices in Niamey, Niger. Image Credit: AP

JOHANNESBURG: The African Union (AU) has suspended Niger from all its activities following the military coup there and told its members to avoid any action that might legitimise the junta.

The coup last month has caused alarm among Western allies and democratic African states who fear it could allow Islamist groups active in the Sahel region to expand their reach.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has been trying to negotiate with the junta but says it is ready to send troops into Niger to restore constitutional order if diplomatic efforts fail.

The AU Peace and Security Council said in a communique on Tuesday that it had noted the decision to activate an ECOWAS standby force and asked the AU Commission to assess the economic, social, and security implications of deploying such a force.

The resolutions in Tuesday’s statement were adopted at a council meeting held on Aug. 14, it said.

It reiterated calls for the coup leaders to immediately release elected President Mohammad Bazoum, who has been detained since the coup, and return to their barracks.

The coup leaders have so far resisted pressure to step down and proposed a three-year timeline to organise elections, a plan which ECOWAS said on Monday it outright rejected.

The AU also said it strongly rejected any external interference in the situation by any actor or country outside of Africa, including engagements by private military companies - a likely reference to Russian mercenary group Wagner, which is active in neighbouring Mali.